Duvar English – Reuters

A Turkish court on July 2 heard a case about converting Istanbul’s sixth century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said, on an issue which has drawn international expressions of concern.

The Council of State heard the case for half an hour after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred the issue to the court.

“If they rule so, we will turn it into a mosque,” Erdoğan previously said.

President Erdoğan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a building at the heart of both Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and today one of Turkey’s most visited monuments.

The government decision to turn the mosque into a museum was made in 1934 in the early years of the Turkish Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The court case disputes the legality of that conversion.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 1 urged Turkey to let Hagia Sophia remain a museum, while the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians warned its conversion to a mosque would sow division.

Hagia Sophia was the foremost church in Christendom for 900 years and then one of Islam’s greatest mosques for 500 years after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it to a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

Turkish groups have campaigned for years for Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque and Erdoğan backed their call ahead of local elections last year.

Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum

Greece, meanwhile, said on July 2 Turkey risked opening up “a huge emotional chasm” with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with the proposal to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

“Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument… Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the U.S State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told a news briefing.